Amex points - for a beginner
May 28, 2014 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I have had an Amex card for some years, and have accumulated over 275,000 points. What is unclear to me is what can I do with them? My goal has always been to use points to upgrade an international flight to first class for my wife and me. But I have no idea how many points are required to do something like that. We would want to go somewhere in Europe. Does anyone have a sense for whether I could do something like that with this amount of points? Thanks!
posted by Blackcow167 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It might help (or it might not) if you specified the type of card and by whom it was issued--Delta/Starwood/Platinum/Gold/Cash etc. Points redemption maybe typed to the specific card.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:24 PM on May 28, 2014

The answer is probably yes, but it's going to take some work. The BlahLaLa family got 3 round trip coach tickets from the US to Paris on Air France with 400,000 Amex points.

Go to the Amex website and start nosing around. Eventually you'll find the section where you can actually start looking for tickets with their airline partners. When I had specific travel dates in mind, I looked every day, solidly, for about a week. It was ennervating, because sometimes you have to go the airline's website first to register for their affiliate program, then go back to the Amex site and look for that airline's available flights with using the login you just created. In short, a lot of little steps.

And I frequently found that flights weren't available ... BUT - because I did this several times in one week what I came to understand is that a flight that's not available one day may be available the next. Who knows what the crazy algorithms are?!? Not I, but after a few days of diligent searching we got the tickets.

Bon voyage.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:25 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a site that says that using your points with AMEX travel means that one AMEX point is .01, so you have $2,750 in money to use with AMEX Travel Services.

Another option would be to transfer AMEX points to your favorite frequent flyer program, as you generally get 1:1 value on that. Check with the airline of your choice to see if that makes sense.

Here's American's Award Chart, it will give you some idea of how many points are needed for what.

Hope this helps.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2014

Assuming that these are Membership Rewards points (these are the points you are earning if you are using one of the classic Green/Gold/Platinum charge cards), you will get a much better value by transferring the points to one of many partner frequent flier programs and then redeeming those miles. With that many miles (again assuming that these are MR points or something of similar value), you should be able to redeem for two very nice first or business class trips to many parts of the world (including Europe) outright, rather than worrying about trying to land upgrades.

Please please please don't redeem Membership Rewards (or Starwood points, or indeed most of the other types of points you could be talking about) for cash--they are vastly more valuable in point form.

Frequent flier redemptions are sufficiently complex that to get the most value, you might consider using one of several sites that have started offering frequent flier booking services, which may charge you 100 or $200 per ticket but will do a better job at finding good redemptions for you than you can on your own without first diving deep into blog and forum posts (on e.g. View from the Wing and flyertalk). A lot of the "points bloggers" have started offering this service as a side business and for someone in your situation it probably makes a lot of sense (vs. the value you would leave on the table if you were to just redeem for cash).
posted by deeaytch at 2:09 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't use Amex points to buy travel directly from Amex. A much better use is to use them in exchange for miles. Especially if you can be patient and wait for the bonuses. A few years ago I swapped a few hundred thousand AMEX points to my BA FF Account and then used that to fly Cathay F NYC-HKG-NRT roundtrip. I think it cost us 300k miles for two. So if you can find even an OK bonus you are there.

I think the other largish FF plan that a US Amex can transfer points to is Delta.

And yeah - seconding flyertalk et al.

The specific problem you will have is that BA rewards US to Europe suck because of the fuel surcharge and Delta - well the don't call it the SkyPeso for nothing.

You can move BA rewards to Iberia though and fly to Madrid pretty cheaply - though their J isn't great and IIRC they don't even have an F. But really - to save a thousand bucks vs BA J its worth the downgrade

Also IMO Europe isn't worth the miles for F. J is not a very big step down. Its not like the Asian carriers -where its totally worth the ridiculousness of it.
posted by JPD at 2:14 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also AFAIK MR points are fungible across card types. The way AMEX differentiates is the rate you earn at and in the case of platinum they used to buy back some of your points when you redeemed them - but no more.
posted by JPD at 2:17 PM on May 28, 2014

nthing transfer to airline miles, and look for the airline with guidance from Flyertalk and other miles-obsessives that gives you the best awards for the conversion. Pick a European hub where you have decent airline options, and perhaps be willing to travel further than usual to your departure airport.

J is not a very big step down.

Especially if you're on the east coast of the US, most eastbound transatlantic flights are going to be overnight with lights out. Upgrade eastbound for the legroom, westbound for the service.

(My one transatlantic flight outside of steerage was when I got upgraded on an Air Canada flight to Manchester because of cancellations. Business class was mainly northern grannies flying back from family visits. It was brilliant, but service-wise, it was really just economy plus legroom.)
posted by holgate at 2:27 PM on May 28, 2014

You are probably better off buying the business class seats with transferred points directly, if that's enough. (Point requirements have increased on many carriers recently.) Economy fares the rules of which permit upgrades business class are very expensive, as in multiples more than the cheapest fare that Expedia will produce for you.
posted by MattD at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2014

Assuming's Membership Rewards, log into your Amex account. Then look for the points summary link. Then in that section you link your account to your frequent flyer account in the various airlines that are supported (or set up those accounts right there via Amex). Then go to the airline sites to see how much reward travel costs in points. Then go back to the Amex site and transfer the points over. Then go back to the airline site and log in to your frequent flyer account and "buy" the tickets with the points you now have. There may be additional fees such as taxes (which you can pay with a credit card or with more points). Be careful about transferring points because some airlines might not be 1:1, and also once you transfer points you can't transfer them back. I don't think you can do just an upgrade this way, but why not just get your entire tickets this way.
posted by Dansaman at 7:10 PM on May 28, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'll do some investigations (btw, it is just a regular gold card).
posted by Blackcow167 at 6:45 AM on May 29, 2014

I had exactly your problem. Using points for travel is harder than you'd think; ticket availability is limited, it's fairly expensive, and if you have to turn the points into miles first there's a bit of a race condition where you're not sure you'll get your ticket or get stuck with a bunch of miles on some airline you then can't use.

When I finally cancelled AmEx (worst company evar) I had a huge pile of points to spend. Rule of thumb: 100 points is worth about $1, so your 275,000 points is nominally worth about $2750 in benefits. In practice it's hard to get that much. I ended up spending some chunk of the points on restaurant gift cards at the 100:$1 rate, then cashing in the rest via Amazon shop with points at 100:$0.70. The Amazon route is not full value but it's basically like cash, a remarkably easy way to spend the points on things you actually want.
posted by Nelson at 7:31 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

A while back I put together a spreadsheet in order to figure out the "exchange rate" of points to real-world dollars depending on what you spent it on.

Restaurant giftcards are the best bet, overall, if you can use them. Lot of eating at chain restaurants though.

Sometimes there are promotions on retail giftcards that make them decent. Gap giftcards are useful at all Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, etc. stores, which is fairly nice, and I was able to get a few hundred bucks of them at the 100pts/$1 rate.

The things you should absolutely avoid are the electronics items. E.g. using points for an iPod, Sony camera, whatever. Those are often like 500pts/$1 or even worse, it just doesn't make any sense.

The Amazon redemption route is a new one and it looks like it's basically valued in between the restaurant-cards level and the other retail levels. Might not be bad since AMZ bucks are basically cash in my world.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:04 AM on May 29, 2014

if you have to turn the points into miles first there's a bit of a race condition where you're not sure you'll get your ticket or get stuck with a bunch of miles on some airline you then can't use.

I've had success in past getting an itinerary held while I transfer in the points. It does require making the booking over the phone - which there is often a fee for, but you can get waived if you ask on the grounds that your booking would be impossible on-line.
posted by JPD at 10:05 AM on May 29, 2014

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